The (Un)Importance Of Making 10,000 Photographs And Cycling 10,000 Miles

In recent years, 10,000 has been quoted by various sources as being some kind of magical number. 

In Malcolm Gladwell’s intriguing book Outliers, he gathers evidence to suggest that 10,000 hours of dedicated practice is the minimum one needs to begin to master their chosen craft, whatever that may be.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, supposedly told colleagues, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.

And in photography circles, the much revered Henri Cartier-Bresson is said to have advised “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”, implying in a very similar way to Gladwell and Edison, that before you’ve made 10,000 images, you’re just practicing, experimenting, and eliminating the ways that don’t work, to start finding those that do.

Still to most of us, 10,000 seems a large measure of anything. The thought of devoting 10,000 hours to something, or taking 10,000 photographs is daunting.

So is it possible, and how do we do it? 

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The approach is in fact very simple.

To make 10,000 photographs, you first just need to make one.

Then another, then another, assessing and evolving and learning as you go, until you reach 100, then 1000, then 10,000.

Similarly, to cycle 10,000 miles, you first just need to ride one metre.

Then 10m, then 100m, then one mile, then 10 miles, a hundred, a thousand and eventually 10,000 miles.

As someone who has made 10,000 photographs many times over, I know you can only ever make one photograph in any one moment. So that’s what I focus on, making each one the best it can be.

And as someone who has quite probably cycled 10,000 miles, if you add up endless days thrashing around on a BMX as a kid, and a mountain bike as a teenager and in my 20s, again the pleasure of cycling is to be found in each moment, each pedal, each rotation of the wheels.

You can’t cover 10,000 miles in one pedal stroke, so I try to enjoy the moment as fully as I can, whether at 3mph, 13mph or 30mph.

Regardless of the figures you may be aiming for (and I tend to prefer concentrating on what I want more of in my life rather than arbitrary goals), more important is enjoying each step, each press of the shutter button, each push round of the pedals.

The numbers really don’t mean much at all, if that’s all you focus on, with no regard to enjoying the experience along the way.

Where do you stand on enjoying the moment versus counting the numbers? 

Please let us know below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography and cycling life looks like right now

4 thoughts on “The (Un)Importance Of Making 10,000 Photographs And Cycling 10,000 Miles”

  1. I just did a rough count of the number of film pictures I’ve taken since 1952 and the number of digital pictures I’ve taken since 2003 and it’s darn close to 10,000 (roughly half film, half digital). From a technical standpoint my current prints are the best I’ve ever made. From an artistic standpoint it’s been hit or miss pretty much from the beginning.

    1. I wonder if you did look back at say your best prints from each decade, you would see an evolution? Or do you think you’ve stayed consistent (encompassing the hits and misses!) through the years?

  2. Dan, I do a lot of number counting with my knitting but don’t do it with my photography. I just enjoy the process. I suppose I do assess that I have a small enough number of photos to put on my wallpaper that changes each time I get on the computer. I like it to move through a small number of photos rather than hundreds so I can enjoy them repeating. then after a while I change them to a new set xoxo susanJOY

    1. Susan, that is a really good way of getting to know your own photos better. I do a similar thing at work, having a photo as the desktop wallpaper on my twin monitors each day.

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